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CIOs face tough decisions in supporting mobile operating systems

SearchHealthIT survey shows Apple iOS is still the top mobile operating system, but growing use of other platforms creates tough choices for CIOs.

With healthcare organizations moving to make many of their critical applications available on mobile devices, determining which platforms to support has never been more important. A new SearchHealthIT mobile health trends survey shows that while Apple's iOS operating system is still the most commonly used in healthcare, other mobile operating systems may be creating more decisions for CIOs.

The poll of 240 hospitals, medical centers, payers and other healthcare professionals, showed that iOS is still on top. When asked what mobile operating systems are used at their office, 81.7% of respondents said Apple's operating system has a presence. Behind iOS, 67.7% said Android was used in their office, 53.7% said Windows Mobile and 32.3% said Blackberry.

We're always adjusting to the levels of issues that we face. I'm not terrorized by Android.

Greg Walton,
CIO, El Camino Hospital

When asked if they could standardize mobile device use across only two operating systems, 74.5% of respondents said they would choose iOS. Android was respondents' second choice, at 49.7%, with Windows mobile just behind, at 42.9%. Just 14% said they would choose Blackberry.

Apple products may still be favored at healthcare organizations, but the rise of Android and Windows mobile systems has given providers more options. And even though few would choose Blackberry going forward, many organizations invested heavily in recent years and still use legacy systems. This means healthcare providers must support a wide range of mobile operating systems.

Greg Walton, chief information officer of Silicon Valley-based El Camino Hospital, said he sees clinicians wanting to use the full range of devices. While many use Apple products, he actually sees more Android devices than anything else.

The profusion of devices and mobile operating systems may raise security concerns. More than 71% of survey respondents said security management was one of their top two mobile device integration issues. Allowing clinicians to use whatever device they want means putting in place security controls for each operating system and making sure every user has updated to the latest version.

Some have expressed concerns that Android products might be particularly risky. The operating system is open source and just about anyone can get an application into the Google Play Store, which may open the door to malware. But Walton said his hospital supports Android devices because supporting a broad range of mobile operating systems empowers clinicians and is a boon to productivity.

"Risk is not black and white; risk is always gray," Walton said. "You have to take measures in your journey through time to mitigate risks with appropriate policies, practices and technology. We're always adjusting to the levels of issues that we face. I'm not terrorized by Android."

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Chris Belmont, CIO of New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System, said the growing number of employees bringing their own devices requires him to provide support for a wide range of operating systems, as there is a great deal of diversity in the consumer technology market.

"I've given up on keeping track of devices and device types," he said. "It's kind of a personal device or it's not, and it could be a tablet or a smartphone. The lines are getting really blurry between those devices anyway. So we're trying to figure out how best to address it."

While smartphones may be nearly ubiquitous among healthcare providers, organizations are putting more emphasis on deploying tablets in healthcare settings. Just over 81% of survey respondents said supporting tablets is among their top device integration priorities, while 68.9% said they were focusing on smartphones.

Belmont said Android and iOS devices are open environments, which can introduce some security risks. Blackberry may be more secure, but few people are buying new Blackberries, so it would be difficult to choose to support only those devices. Going forward he will continue to look for ways to safely and securely support a full pallet of devices.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ed Burns, news writer, or contact @EdBurnsTT on Twitter.

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Guide: BYOD, app security and other mHealth trends

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